Making sense of (career) transitions: the rollercoaster of emotions explained

Most people are not comfortable with change. The problem is, in our current world, change is the only constant and thus we are often required to change and transition. Unfortunately, we have never learned the skills to effectively navigate change and transition.

In this article you will get a  basic understanding of how change and transitions work on an individual level, which can help you to make sense of your thoughts and feelings at times of change and transition.


William Bridges Transition Model

There are a variety of models that describe personal change. One of the models that I find useful is Bridges Transition Model.

Bridges’ transition model identifies three stages people go through when faced with a change: the Ending, the Neutral Zone and The New Beginning.

The stages refer to different psychological process you go through when faced with change: from griefing and saying goodbye to whatever you are letting go off to a period of figuring out the next steps and finally adopting new ways of being and doing to kick off the beginning of something new.

According to Bridges people, when faced with a change, go through each stage of transition at their own pace.

Even though the stages imply a linear process, this is often not the case as individuals can move back and forth between stages. However, for successful change to occur, individuals must begin with the end.


What is the difference between change and transition?

Often the words change and transition are used interchangeable but they are not the same thing.

Before we dive deeper into the different stages, I want to spend some time explaining the difference between change and transition.

Change is the external event or situation that takes place (e.g., getting a new job or losing your job). It is a a one-time occurrence (e.g., we change jobs).

Transition refers to the internal psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about. Transition is an ongoing process.

Bridges model focuses on transition, not change.

Bridges Transition Model: the different stages of transition

The ending

Every transition starts with an ending. Something has come to an end and in this stage you are leaving the old situation behind. At this stage your focus is on managing the loss of an old way of doing or being.

For example, when you are making a career change,  you have to say goodbye to your workplace, the people you worked with every day, the tasks you were assigned to in your role and even a part of your identity is left behind: the worker you were at your previous job, within that department, within that organization, within your role.

You often hear that people resist change. However, it is not the change that we object to. It is the letting go of something familar and comfortable, that we find diffcult.

It can be helpful to recognize here that our ability to change is built on the ability to live outside of our comfort zone.

Tip: create a ritual around the ‘letting go of the old’. It is important to acknowledge your sense of loss. We often tend to dismiss our “negative” emotions and suppress them but they are part of the human experience.

Tip: identify what goes and what stays. At moments of loss, we may only focus on the things we leave behind. Shifting your focus towards what stays the same, can give you some comfort.

The neutral zone

Once you have successfully let go of the old situation, you enter the second stage of the transition: The Neutral Zone. This Neutral Zone is an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational.

This phase is often so undefined that we find it hard to grab our minds around it. That is why a lot of people find this stage to be the most challenging. There might be a lot of self-doubt about being able to make a change.

This phase can be even harder when you don’t know how long you will be there or even what your next something else will be.

Sometimes clients even perceive this liminal space as a wasted time of meaningless waiting, confusion and overthinking. If this is the case, you might find yourself focused at constantly wishing for the next stage to arrive.

Know that this phase is absolutely essential to finding a new beginning.

The Neutral Zone is the stage at which you explore and discover new ways of doing things. This requires time, reflection and experimentation.

Tip: At this stage you will most likely find that your emotions will fluctuate. One day you feel hopeful and excited for the new beginnings and on other days you feel stuck, confused and down about not knowing what is next.

It helps to create anchors for yourself that will help you to navigate this period of uncertainty and ambiguity. Anchors could range from people who can support you to well-being practices that help you re-energize.


New beginnings

The final stage of this model is “new beginnings”, where you start to build new identities, values and ways of doing and being.

Even though most people have been looking forward to this stage throughout their process, this too can be a challening stage.

At this stage it helps if you adapt an flexible mindset and attitude, meaning that you are open to shifts and corrections in your plans as events and experiences may occur that require modification.

Moreover, this is the stage where you may find your self-confidence increases again. You can sustain this by focusing on achieving small achievements and quick wins.

Tip: celebrate the process you have gone through as well and the results brought about by the career change.


Career transitions: gather support

If you have ever made a change in your life and went through a tranistion process, you may know change often comes with roadblocks. For example when you find yourself having difficulties with accepting the loss (e.g., losing your job) or if you are noticing that you are procrastinating on taking the necessary steps because you feel overwhelmed by everything.

It is important that you gather a supporting community around you who can help you overcome these roadblocks in your transition process. This community can consist of different types of people:

  • Cheerleaders: those who celebrate the (small) steps along the way with you.
  • Accountablity partners: those who can remind you of the steps to take
  • A mentor/coach: someone who understands the process that you are going through and can hold space for evertyhing you are experiencing.


About me

Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, certified Career & Leadership coach who is passionate about helping women move through their career and daily life with more ease and meaning.

As a Career & Leadership coach, I combine my background in Work Psychology, (Mental)Health Sciences and Leadership development to help you get clear about what makes you tick and gain clarity around difficult career choices.

In this online space, I share work centered around embracing our full humanity in everything we do and the choices that we make in our daily lives.

Learn more about me here

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